In order to end poverty by 2030, everyone needs to do their part, even kids. And they can start by pooping in the toilet and washing their hands.
That was the message that Raya, Sesame Street’s global health ambassador, brought to World Bank headquarters this week.
Not everyone has access to a toilet, of course. In fact, 2.5 billion people do not. And some people don’t use toilets even if they’re available, making sanitation one of the biggest challenges facing some developing countries.
On Wednesday, the World Bank hosted an event with characters from Sesame Street, the long-running TV series whose beloved Muppets have become global icons. Raya, one of their newest members, is a blue-green Muppet whose mission is to teach young children about open defecation, or, as she likes to put it, “pooping outside.” Her character was created specifically for Sesame Street’s WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) campaign. She spends a lot of time in countries like Bangladesh, Nigeria, and India, teaching kids about pooping in a toilet, washing their hands and using clean water.
Raya, fellow cast member Count von Count, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and Sesame Workshop President and CEO Jeffrey D. Dunn talked to a group of staffers and preschoolers about the role children play in development.
“It’s not just about building toilets,” Kim said. “Having toilets is great. But the real issue is behavior change.”
Enter the unusual partnership between the World Bank and Sesame Street. As the largest informal educator of children, reaching 156 million children worldwide in over 150 countries, Sesame Street is more than an educational TV show. It’s a research-driven learning institute targeting early childhood development.
One of their focus areas is to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene by teaching kids ages 3-8 and their caregivers to incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily lives. With the World Bank’s ability to build the kind of infrastructure needed to give those 2.5 billion people access to toilets, that’s a powerful pairing. Or as Dunn put it, “we’re the software and the World Bank is the hardware.”